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Inciting fear of imprisoned terrorists?

April 11, 2011 |  5:24 pm

Ahmed Ressam I concede that the 1st Amendment bars the government from forbidding false claims about one's exploits on the battlefield, but what about making false insinuations about someone else's exploits in the war on terror?

The Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, the California-based Tea Party Express' venture into presidential politics, unveiled a 60-second television commercial  Monday that it plans to air in seven swing states. (It made its debut that day in Nevada.) The ad cites President Obama's "legacy of failure," punching such populist hot buttons as high unemployment, bank bailouts and high public worker salaries. (Never mind the vital role that Obama's predecessor played in all of these issues, particularly the bank bailouts, which were ordered in 2008.) It then intones: "And while Obama earns a reputation for incompetence around the globe, our borders here at home remain unsecured as drug traffickers and terrorists seek to exploit our negligence."

To accompany this accusation of Obamian inadequacy, the ad displays a series of images evidently grabbed from the Web. One shows a scary-looking man in a ski mask toting an assault weapon. In fact, it's an officer of the Mexican Judicial Police, and the image dates back at least to 2008. Another is a digitally darkened mug shot of Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian would-be terrorist arrested in 1999 while trying to enter the United States from Canada. Better known as the "Millennium Bomber," Ressam not only has nothing to do with Obama, his case represents a border-security success story. Probably the only things Ressam is seeking to exploit these days are his prison's library and pay phone.

I asked the campaign why it chose the picture of a guy whose offense dates back more than a decade. Spokesman Ryan J. Gill responded via email: "We used Ressam because his is a documented incident of a terrorist trying to exploit our weak borders to attack us. Of course anyone who was successful in exploiting that weakness, we wouldn't be able to identify."

I'll grant you that, Ryan. But that still doesn't explain how Ressam illustrates a failure on the part of Obama's border strategy. Or anyone else's, for that matter. You'd think there was enough in Obama's actual record for his opponents to run against without concocting horror stories out of whole cloth.

-- Jon Healey

Photo: Ahmed Ressam. Credit: AP Photo via a handout from the Montreal Police. Hat tip to TinEye.com for helping identify the images used in the commercial.

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